EDITORIAL: The Everett Herald, October 29, 2004

Referendum 55: A Measured Introduction to Charter Schools

Public schools in Snohomish and Island counties have, by and large, made impressive progress of late. Scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning are up, as are scores on the college-entrance Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Still, plenty of challenges remain. The state dropout rate hovers around 30 percent, and some state schools are struggling to meet the adequate yearly progress mandated by the federal "No Child Left Behind" act.

Ground-breaking ideas for learning have brought many schools to new levels of achievements. Grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are yielding new ways of keeping at-risk students from falling irretrievably behind. Innovation is at the heart of moving our schools forward, and must be encouraged whenever possible. That's why Referendum 55, which would make Washington the 41st state to allow charter public schools, should be approved by voters on Tuesday.

A charter school is a public school that operates on a contract, or charter, that spells out guidelines the school must follow. Outside of those guidelines, which deal with issues such as fiscal requirements, student progress, and non-discrimination, the school is free to innovate in ways traditional public schools cannot. In effect, they become laboratories for new ways of learning, spawning ideas other public schools can follow.

Voters have twice rejected charter-school initiatives, but this measure is more modest. It would create a maximum of 45 charter schools statewide over six years, and its cost would be minimal—some $14 million, or about 0.3 percent of the current state education budget. Most of the increase would pay for students expected to rejoin the public-school system after attending private school or being home-schooled.

Charter schools have long been debated in Washington. We believe that they hold enough promise to be tried in a modest way, and recommend approval of R-55.

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